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One or more of the following symptoms may accompany poor performance during inserts to a large table on SQL Server:
A common cause for these symptoms is that inserts to a heap (a table without a clustered index) are often slower than inserts to a table with a clustered index (a clustered table).
This article outlines some reasons why a clustered index can often improve performance in this type of situation. Microsoft recommends that you add a clustered index to the table and test the effect of the clustered index on performance.
In SQL Server 7.0, and later, SQL Server generally optimizes inserts into a heap with the assumption that saving space is more important than performance. That is the tradeoff you choose to make when you decide to leave a table as a heap. Therefore, an insert into a heap often spends time searching for a location to insert a new row. On the other hand, an insert to a clustered table does not have to spend time searching for space. For more details about how the space is allocated, see the "Managing Space Used by Objects" topic in SQL Server Books Online.
In SQL Server 2000, there are more variations of situations where you can better optimize an insert to a heap than there are in SQL Server 7.0. With any high insert environment, it is best to test your particular scenario both with and without a clustered index to determine which is best for your situation.
The considerations of which columns to include in your clustered index are too expansive to include here. SQL Server Books Online, "Inside Microsoft SQL Server 7.0", and "Inside Microsoft SQL Server 2000" are very valuable resources that will help you decide which columns to include in the clustered index for your environment. However, one of the most important factors is that the first column of your clustered key must be as selective as possible. If there are few distinct values in the key column then many more reads are necessary for each query.
REFERENCESSQL Server Books Online
Soukup, Ron. Inside Microsoft SQL Server 7.0, Microsoft Press, 1999.
Delaney, Kalen. Inside Microsoft SQL Server 2000, Microsoft Press, 2000.